The U.S. military is leading a program to develop brain implants to restore memory to veterans who have suffered brain injuries. The Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program is a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the branch of the U.S. Department of Defense charged with developing next-generation technologies for the military. The initiative aims to develop wireless, fully implantable "neuroprosthetics" for service members suffering from traumatic brain injury or illness.
More than 270,000 U.S. veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) since 2000, and the condition affects about 1.7 million civilians in the United States each year, according to DARPA. TBI interferes with the ability to recall memories from before the injury, and also the capacity to form or retain new memories.
Currently, few treatments for TBI-related memory loss exist, but DARPA is trying to change that. Deep brain stimulation, the use of implanted electrodes to deliver electrical signals to specific parts of the brain, has already demonstrated success in treating Parkinson's disease and other chronic brain conditions. Building on these advances, DARPA is developing new neuroprosthetics to bridge the gap in an injured brain to restore memory function.
There are many different types of memory, but the RAM program will focus on a kind known as declarative memory — knowledge that can be consciously recalled, such as events, times or places.
For example, imagine you need to go to the store. To find it, you need to know where the store is located and what it's called. A person with a traumatic brain injury often has trouble remembering these basic facts.
The project is being funded by the government and will spill over into the general population as the technology is achieved.
As part of the RAM program, UCLA will receive up to $15 million, and the University of Pennsylvania will receive up to $22.5 million in funding, over a four-year period. In addition, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a federal research facility located in Livermore, California, will receive up to $2.5 million. The funding will depend on whether the institutions meet a series of technical milestones, ranging from recording neural signals to developing the hardware for chronic implants.
Stay tuned for more.